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Monday, 04 November 2013 00:00

An open secret of Turkish society: 'Second marriages' hurt all involved

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Although not openly discussed very often, "second marriages" remain a problem in Turkish society,

appearing with increasing frequency not only in rural but also urban Turkey and forming a triangle that causes unhappiness for all involved.

Of course, as in other secular systems, "second marriages" are not legal in Turkey. Both males and females can be married to one person at a time by law. However, in Islam, having sex out of wedlock is forbidden. Consequently, men who want to pursue another relationship in addition to their official marriages resort to what is called an "imam's wedding" (imam nikahı) which makes them married in the eyes of God, thus avoiding sin.

Yet, it is not so easy, according to theologian Süleyman Sargın. In terms of Islam, a couple should announce their marriage. “In today's second marriages, secrecy is prevalent, so it is hard to argue that they are legitimate in terms of Islam,” Sargın explains. He says that although not encouraged by Islam, second marriages are allowed under certain conditions as long as the rights of both parties are protected. However, he believes that in modern days, men marry for a second time only to serve their carnal desires.

Emphasizing that the term "imam nikahı" does not exist in Islam, as anyone can confirm a marriage in the presence of witnesses, Sargın says that due to people's ignorance of Islamic practices, over the centuries people began to ask an imam to wed the couples. Stating that any official marriage is legitimate according to Islam, Sargın says that in unofficial second marriages, it is the second wives that are harmed the most because their rights are not under any legal protection.

‘I took him at his word and believed him,' says second wife

A second wife herself for the last 13 years, one woman in her late 30s and a manager in her unofficial husband's company relates sadly that he should not have married her without officially ending his first marriage. Stating that she first resisted her boss -- now husband -- in his desire to have a relationship with her, she says that she somehow found herself involved with him as they shared the same workplace. “I took him at his word back then when he told me that he was going to ask for a divorce soon,” she explains, but she later realized that her husband was not making a serious attempt to divorce his official wife as he did not want to be completely separated from his family.

“It does not make a difference whether he gets divorced or not after this point,” she says resentfully, although her husband had cut ties with his first wife seven years before.

When asked about the reactions of society, she says that regardless of the woman's story or background, there is always prejudice against "second wives" as they are seen to be evil women who have spoiled others' marriages.

However, psychiatrist Dr. Nihat Kaya says that it is not as simple as it seems. According to him, “second women” are usually more victimized than “official wives” because, when forced to make a choice, men usually choose to keep their first marriages.

According to the doctor, who receives many patients involved in second marriages, these cases have increased somewhat recently, although the phenomenon has always existed in Turkish society. For him, these cases have come into the light more often lately because the victimized women speak up more. In addition, according to him, in the last 20 years conservatives have climbed out of their ghetto and integrated more with the rest of the society, thus the shield was removed for men with a tendency for polygamy.

There is a conviction in Turkish society that men tend to be involved in extramarital affairs once they become better off. Dr. Kaya says that increasing financial means help men to pursue a second marriage, although it is seen among people from all walks of life. He argues that “conservative men have 'imam nikahı' to relieve their conscience, to get rid of guilt.” The official wives, on the other hand, are usually “hurt emotionally because they are ignored, feel unloved, not desired.”

I feel that my dignity has been damaged, says first wife

A homemaker in her mid 50s whose husband is involved in a "second marriage" feels that her dignity has been damaged, especially in the eyes of others who are aware of the situation. “I feel as if I have fallen into water and there is no hand to help me out,” she says, adding that she has not considered a divorce due to her financial dependence on her husband as well as concerns about the future and the status of her children in a fatherless household.

Family counselor Efkan Yeşildağ, who says he observes numerous such cases, confirms that the official wives also feel that their dignity is hurt. However, he says that these women “often use their children against the father, and the children suffer the most.”

Dr. Kaya says that the official wife's suffering can lead to depression and anxiety. Some even commit suicide, while others choose to compete with the other woman in an effort to “win back” their husband, he adds. The homemaker mentioned above, however, says that although she has received psychological help from time to time, it does not control her pain.

When asked about her husband's reaction when she confronted him with his extramarital affair, as she calls it, she says that he continued denying it for years until he realized that she knew, but he still will not completely admit his second marriage. Calling on these imams not to accept applications for second marriages, this heartbroken homemaker says that men only cheat themselves in order to soothe their consciences. According to her, her husband becomes embarrassed whenever there is talk of "second marriages" among people, adding that she also pities him.

Traditional versus religious men

Yeşildağ, however, makes a distinction between traditional conservatives and religious conservatives. According to him, cases of second marriage are on the rise in the first group, since the second group faces mechanisms of social control on second marriages in their communities. Based on his observations, Yeşildağ believes that traditional conservatives look for new sources of pleasure as they accumulate wealth. Many of the men think that their wife is physically, socially, emotionally or mentally inadequate, he notes. However, according to him, no happy man would run the risk of divorce by entering a second marriage, and men usually look for another relationship when they receive little attention at home. Yeşildağ says that he has seen cases in which the official wives knew nothing of the second wife for six, eight or even 10 years.

As far as the husbands' situations are concerned, Dr. Kaya speaks of a mixed record. “Men suffer less in such relationships, because they are able to unburden themselves of their stress away from home,” he states, arguing that some even enjoy the fact that women are competing for them. However, if they are under too much pressure, they might suffer from depression and anxiety.

Why, then, are men involved in second marriages? According to Dr. Kaya, men have a biological tendency to be polygamous as they are able to reproduce until the end of their lives, unlike women. However, financial means and prosperity also encourage men to have more than one woman in their lives. Dr. Kaya notes that women also tend to be more attracted to powerful men, which contributes to these reasons.

The second women on the other hand, according to the doctor, have negative feelings about being secondary and the secrecy of the relationship. Furthermore, they long for children and cannot spend enough time with their unofficial husbands. According to Dr. Kaya, if there is too much pressure, men may abandon the second wives.

Sympathy for the official wife

Then why do women settle for a second marriage? Yeşildağ says that in society people tend to sympathize with the official wife and ignore the second woman. “She is probably a woman who has problems and reasons to accept a marriage with an already-married man; she is willing to share the man with another woman, unlike the first wife,” Yeşildağ points out.

In a remark that seems to confirm Yeşildağ's opinion, the aforementioned second wife says that she realized, especially after having children, that it was the lack of her father while growing up that attracted her to her unofficial husband, who is much older than her, in an effort to find some sort of support.

Dr. Kaya, on the other hand, says it is usually divorced women who are not economically independent that settle for being the second wife, as it is harder for them to remarry with a single man. In addition, women with children whom they cannot care for alone and young girls who fall in love with married men can also enter second marriages. “They often believe that these guys are unhappy in their marriages and will eventually get married to them,” he adds.

All in all, it seems that this “hidden fact of Turkish society,” in Yeşildağ's words, is on the rise while it leads everyone involved into depression, resentment and unhappiness.


Read 3133 times Last modified on Monday, 25 May 2015 14:00